Lifting and Moving Operations: An Inch Can Save a Life

Lifting and moving is a vital skill and requires some outside-the-box thinking from all rescuers involved. Michael Donahue provides insight to the theories and practices related to these heavy lifting tasks for crews.

In the world of technical rescue there is a lot of technology, and advanced equipment and training to go along with it. There are, however, skills in the world of technical rescue that possess a caveman-like skill set. What I mean by that is it’s not always the expensive piece of equipment that gets the job done. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love tools and gadgets as much as the next guy, but the technology found in those tools came from basic caveman-like ideas.

In this article, we’re going to look at the discipline of lifting and moving. This is a great topic in the sense that to this day we still use those caveman-like techniques to get the job done. Lifting and Moving is a vital skill and requires some outside-the-box thinking from all rescuers involved. For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to anything we’re going to lift as the “Load.” With that being said, let’s punch that gas pedal to the floor and get this article moving.

The first thing a rescuer needs to learn and understand is that you can’t just lift a load without “reading” it first. What I mean by that is you need to look at what you’re lifting and how it will affect loads near it and on it. As the rule of physics states, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. What that means is simply this, you need to go find the thickest book on physics and read it cover to cover to gain the understanding you need to move that object. Just kidding! It simply means look at what you’re going to lift and visualize how it will affect the loads on and around it. A collapse field could sometimes be like a Jenga game, move or lift the wrong piece and you’ll collapse others.

Lifting and moving loads can be accomplished in a multitude of ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Fulcrum & Leaver 
  • Hydraulic Tools 
  • Pneumatic Struts 
  • Pneumatic Air Bags 
  • Ropes 

Let’s first look at the Fulcrum & Leaver. The F&L is categorized into three different classes:

  • Class 1 
  • Class 2 
  • Class 3 


The F&L is an ancient means of generating raw power through human output. When technology fails, this will always perform. How it works is simple. As you push down on the lever, you create somewhat of a mechanical advantage. The longer the lever, the more power you’ll generate. Positioning and size of the fulcrum will not only dictate your power, but also the height of your lift. Different levers work in different ways; however the outcome is the same. If you look at Figures 6, 7 and 8, you can see each lever is different. They all, however, provide you with power. Like anything else, you need to realize your limitations. If you’re creating an F&L, you should be using either 4x4 or 6x6 lumber.

Getting back to the limitations, there’s something called the crack rule. When lifting heavy loads, stress and strain are placed on the F&L, but it’s the stress and strain on the lever that we’re mainly concerned about. Once you hear two cracks in a lever made from a 4x4, it’s time to replace it or make the decision to change the dimension of lumber to a 6x6. When using a 6x6, at the third crack it’s time to replace it. One of the great things about using lumber is that it lets you know when it’s being overloaded. I’d have to say it’s in your best interest to respect it and replace it when needed.

Hyrdaulic Rescue Tools

Let’s move into the world of hydraulics. In a nutshell, it’s raw power at the end of a switch. In the world of rescue, the capabilities of hydraulic tools is only limited to your outside-the-box mentality.

Here are some examples of hydraulic tools:

  • Spreaders (Figure 9)
  • Cutters (Figure 10)
  • Rams (Figure 11)
  • Combi Tool (Figure 12)
  • Hydraulic Saws and Breakers (Figure 13)


At first glance, you may think that spreaders, cutters, and rams are exclusively for motor vehicle operations. If you haven’t had any formal urban search and rescue (USAR) training, then rightfully so, that’s how you would think. These tools aren’t object-specific; meaning the actions they perform can be applied to anything. When using these tools, you need to keep in mind the stability of the load being lifted. There’s a saying that’s pretty much worth its weight in gold, “Lift an Inch, Crib an Inch.”

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